Shortly after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for a drunk driving crash that killed Jordan and Chandra Van de Vorst along with their children Kamryn and Migure, Catherine McKay was moved from a jail cell to a healing lodge.
It left Jordan’s father Lou Van de Vorst hurt and confused.
“When you say the words ‘federal penitentiary’ and ‘healing lodge,’ they have two different connotations. That’s what upset us … the consequences aren’t there,” Lou explained on Thursday.
WATCH: Lou Van de Vorst reacts to Catherine McKay’s move to a healing lodge
After Lou Van de Vorst spoke out about the move, it had many online outraged that McKay was getting off easy. But not many knew exactly what goes on at healing lodges.
Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has nine healing lodges across the country, including three in Saskatchewan.
Okimaw Ochi, located near Maple Creek is the only one in the province for women. Five of the facilities are managed by indigenous communities and the other four are managed by CSC in close collaboration with indigenous communities.
In a statement, CSC said they offer a broad range of correction programs and interventions to decrease an inmate’s chance of re-offending. This includes healing lodges which are designed particularly to address the needs of indigenous offenders using culturally relevant correctional programs.
“These correctional programs enhance public safety by making offenders accountable for their behaviour, changing their attitudes and beliefs, and teaching skills that can be used to cope and help address their behaviour.”
In order to get into a healing lodge, an indigenous offender must demonstrate an interest in traditional healing paths and successfully complete various culturally appropriate interventions.
“Based on a healing and holistic approach, indigenous programs target offenders’ needs in the context of indigenous history, culture, and spirituality while at the same time addressing the factors related to criminal behaviour. Aboriginal correctional program officers, elders, spirituality and ceremony are integral to program design and delivery.”
According to CSC, healing lodges are an important part of preparing indigenous offenders for reintegration from custody into the community.
There is no time limit for an inmate to stay in a healing lodge.
Ed Dean, a Salvation Army clergy who has been involved in faith programs at Okimaw Ochi for 10 years, said the facility works to improve the inmates “whole self.”
“It’s a sacred space. It’s a great spot for being with the creator and getting in touch with mother earth,” Dean said via Skype on Friday.
“When they understand themselves and their culture, it’s a different way of life. It creates a positive way of life for them so they don’t return to their old ways.”
Dean said the women have to wake up at a specific time and be ready for counts. The day always starts with a ceremonial spiritual time. From there, the women go onto daily programming which is individualized and can include schooling and learning trades. It’s all about giving the inmates skills to succeed once they’re out.
“Some of them are coming in with a low education and they’re leaving with a Grade 12 diploma.”
“I would say that there should be more healing lodges in Canada. It’s a positive form of doing justice.”